The term cult film is really overused. Some claim that Reservoir Dogs or The Usual Suspects are cult films when they are really just critically appreciated successful films with a cool cast and/or soundtrack. A cult is something that demands devotion, even blind faith, and, by its nature, is often a well kept secret. 1985s Restless Natives is the kind of film that gathers followers who display such devotion.

Which may seem odd as it appears at first to be a fairly undemanding comedy. But sometimes you can’t quite put your finger on why a film works and becomes more than the constituent parts would suggest. Its main attribute is a quotable, genuinely funny, and sometimes moving script that never dips in quality. The secondary characters, such as the young police men, the blackmailing children and Iain Macoll’s demented gangster Nigel, all play their part and repeated viewing gives up some of the more subtle gags that may have been missed first time round.

The lead actors are mostly unknown outside of aficionado’s of Scottish TV and theatre of the 1980s. They are Vincent Freill (Diane’s father in Trainspotting), Joe Mullaney (who I seem to remember from Scottish Socialist Party party political broadcasts and an early 80s drama called Maggie) and Teri Lally (from the William Low adverts and a cameo in Comfort and Joy). Supporting them are some better known names including Mel Smith, Ned Beatty and, with one of the worst Scottish accents I have ever had the privilege to witness, Bernard Hill as Vincent’s father. It’s spectacular.

This is one of those films that I watched over and over with my brother when we were in our teens and could, to this day, recite it word for word. If you haven’t seen Restless Natives then you must track down a copy of this film, particularly if you are a lover of the work of Bill Forsyth. Here’s a couple of clips to give you a taste:

Restless Natives

Big Country – Restless Natives

An aspect of the film that is interesting is the way that it was obviously cut to appeal to an overseas market. Look out for the random shots of waterfalls, rolling hills and bubbling brooks. It’s as if it has been made in conjunction with the Scottish Tourist Board.

But such things don’t diminish the film, and even if you have a fear of Big Country, who provide the soundtrack, then I would ask you to overcome it as their music makes perfect sense in this context. You may even reconsider their output. It’s not all bagpipe sounding guitars as some people seem to think. Restless Natives comes with as close a guarantee of a good time as I can possibly give. It’s now available on DVD. Every home should have one.


Further thoughts can be found at scotswhayhae

Alistair’s latest thoughts on Scottish books appear on the first Monday of every month.

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  1. Amazing… I was just thinking earlier today that Restless Natives would make a perfect “You Have Been Watching”, and here it is.

    It’s definitely quotable… 25 years later I can still remember many of the lines: “You *are* a clown – in a stupid leather coat!” “Jeely sandwiches!” And possibly my favourite line from any movie, ever: “Penicuik – they’ll never find us in Penicuik!”


  2. I watched it for the first time in a while recently and it all came flooding back; ‘the nice puffer’, ‘nasty sugar’, the kids extorting money, the childish behaviour and stupidity of the police, and my own favourite line ‘have you any false tits?’

    It’s just struck me that it shares with ‘Gregory’s Girl’ this idea that the older people get the more stupid they become.

    The two films would make a great double bill.

  3. I’ve had “The Clown and the Wolfman” at the top of my “good band names” list for a long time, and have wondered how many folk would get it.

  4. Classic film. I remember seeing it as a kid but it looks a bit dated now. Does it really stand up today?

  5. The fashions may be dated but the script and performances definitely stand the test of time. It is set in the 80s, but is not a slave to that decade. There are no references to Spacehoppers,Choppers or Y cardigans. I won’t pretend there is not a sense of nostalgia when watching it, but I showed this 2 years ago to an audience whose average age would have been 24 and they all loved it.

    I think watching it again will gladden your heart.

  6. One of my all-time-favorite films, memorized the dialog, like the writer. I confess to being a mad Big Country Fan, but I always thought this was one of the best ever combinations of dialog and scoring. I also see it as belonging very much will Bill Forsyth films. “I hold up buses!!!”

  7. Wasn’t one of the young leads (Joe Mullaney) career cut short with a conviction for indecent assault? I seem to remember that.

  8. I believe so Kevin, I’m sure it was something like that. Unfortunately can’t find any details online about it though!